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WORLD NEWS | A sick Thai elephant returns home for treatment after years of neglect in Sri Lanka

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BANGKOK, July 2 (AP) — A diseased elephant gifted to Sri Lanka by Thailand more than two decades ago returned home Sunday for treatment after allegations the animal was severely mistreated at a Buddhist temple.

The male elephant, known as “Muthu Raja” (Pearl King) in Sri Lanka and “Sak Surin” (“Mighty Surin”) in Thailand, flew from the capital of the South Asian island nation on a Russian Ilyushin IL plane. Fly directly to Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand. -76 freighter.

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A team of six, including two veterinarians and four mahouts, professional elephant trainers, accompany the elephants on the flight, which lasts about six hours.

A special container was built to house the pachyderm, which is 275 cm (9 ft) tall and weighs 4 tons.

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Several mahouts traveled to Sri Lanka ahead of time to acclimate the animal to the cage before it panicked on its way to Thailand.

Video of his arrival in Chiang Mai shows the elephant conscious and looking calm.

Thailand’s Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa was at the airport and said the elephant was in good condition when it landed.

He earlier said Thailand had spent at least 19 million baht ($540,000) to repatriate the animal.

The pachyderm can be heard honking inside the container as it is loaded onto the truck’s flatbed trailer to be taken to the government’s Thai Elephant Conservation Center near Lampang province, where he will be quarantined for at least 30 days , and receive rehabilitation there.

The elephant was sent to Sri Lanka in 2001 as a gift from the Thai royal family when it was about 10 years old.

It was one of three elephants given to the Sri Lankan government by Thailand to train them as carriers of religious artifacts. Matu Raja was placed under the care of a Buddhist temple.

The Animal Rights and Environment Alliance, a Sri Lanka-based animal rights group, claimed in 2020 that the animal was in poor health and required urgent medical attention due to years of hard labor and abuse.

The group launched a petition calling for the elephants to be rescued and later called for the elephants to be returned to Thailand after the Sri Lankan government allegedly ignored complaints from activists.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in November 2022 saying that preliminary investigations by the Thai embassy in Sri Lanka had concluded that the elephant was in “poor health and poor living conditions.”

Thailand will seek Sri Lanka’s approval to bring the elephants back for treatment, the statement said.

The elephant was reported to be underweight, with rough, abscessed skin on both buttocks, thinned foot pads and a stiff left front leg, making it difficult to walk and stand.

He was transferred from a Buddhist temple to Sri Lanka’s National Zoo for initial treatment and appeared to be in better health before being flown to Thailand.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawadna told members of parliament last month that he expressed regret to the Thai prime minister over what happened to the elephants during his visit to Thailand in May.

Thai officials said the main purpose of bringing the animal back was for medical care, and its return to Sri Lanka remained a topic of discussion with the Colombo government.

At a news conference in Bangkok last month, Thailand’s environment minister, Varavu Silpa Acha, said authorities would start investigating the health of other Thai elephants abroad.

Exports of elephants to Thailand have been banned for conservation reasons, he said. (Associated Press)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a syndicated news feed, the latest staff may not have modified or edited the body of content)


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